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Tufts Public Health » Exercise, Mental Health, Prevention » This prescription is a walk in the park

This prescription is a walk in the park

Park

The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with events across the country. Whether you honor the centennial by going to the Grand Canyon or to your neighborhood playground, getting outside is healthy. Green space for exercise can help your heart and lower your blood pressure.  Just sitting outdoors can improve your mental health.

Less than half of U.S. adults meet recommended guidelines for daily exercise, and nearly 1 in 13 people over the age of 11 suffer from depression. Increasingly, physicians and others recognize that the outdoors is one tool to counteract these and other public health issues. Some doctors are writing prescriptions instructing their patients to go to the park. Research on these “park prescriptions” is fairly new, with limited data available on the impact so far.

While there is still more to learn, according to an article in Environmental Health Perspectives, “researchers have dramatically expanded their understanding of the positive link between health and parks of all sorts—from the most majestic national parks to regional community parks and urban ‘pocket parks’ with just a swing set or a few benches.” Parks have been shown to benefit us in a variety of ways, including:

  • Promoting mental health. Looking at and listening to nature calms the brain and improves the ability to focus.
  • Developing social bonds. Spending time outdoors in a group of people – friends, family, or strangers – builds relationships.
  • Protecting vision. For kids, staring at a tree instead of a screen may lessen the chance of becoming nearsighted.
  • Encouraging exercise. Although you don’t have to exercise to reap health benefits from the outdoors, being outside often provides a chance for exercise, which comes with its own host of health benefits.
  • Decreasing pollution. Just by virtue of their existence, parks can trap pollution in the air and water, as well as muffle noises from the street.

For city dwellers with limited access to nature, discovering a place to be outdoors can yield many rewards. Fortunately, an increasing number of programs are working to preserve access to outdoor spaces and connect people to nature. For example, representatives from the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) came to speak to Professor Christine Rioux’s environmental health class at Tufts this year about one such program. OutdoorsRX, an initiative of the AMC, is designed to encourage kids and families to get outside. The program organizes group gatherings at local parks in communities in and around Boston. The OutdoorsRX website also offers suggestions for outdoor activities, including a searchable database of trip ideas that can be filtered by location, age, and public transit accessibility.

Looking for a way to get outside? Here are a few options to get you started.

by Cayla Saret, MPH Candidate ’17

Filed under: Exercise, Mental Health, Prevention

One Response to "This prescription is a walk in the park"

  1. Christine Rioux says:

    Great article, Cayla. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of your classmates and other Tufts community members.

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